How to write amazingly feminist horror
Hello, I’m Grace and I’m addicted to Gothic literature.
Understood as a branch of horror, Gothic literature was one of the first places that women could write and create under their own names. By adapting everything that was feared about them - abject bodily substances, female agency, and female independence - and embracing the social fear that surrounded them, women created a space for themselves.
There are so many incredible examples of feminism within horror, not only within literature, but TV and movies as well. Horror is an unlikely space that explores the power of femininity by portraying the fear that it inspires as a space to reclaim what is manipulated into fear.
So, what I’m providing today for you is a toolkit with which to build your own feminist Gothic tale.
1. An agent
This may be rather intuitive, but in order to create a successful story, you need a protagonist. In this sort of genre, it helps if your protagonist is someone who can claim their abject boundaries to rally against normal social perceptions. Traditionally, this is typically a woman, however, as society continues to become more progressive, this scope will expand to include all identities that do not fall within cis-male identities. By focusing on inclusive protagonists, this space will continue to create agency and reclaim stigmatised identities.
Examples of agents can be normal women who are subjected to supernatural and creepy happenings around them, who are stigmatised for their femininity, and who embrace everything about their womanhood that is feared, such as pregnancy. You can check our stories like this in our horror anthology, The Abyss Within: 13 Chilling Tales To Keep You Up At Night. They can also be supernatural beings, such as demons and witches, who embody the fear that is imposed upon femininity by rejecting social conventions. The more that your protagonist embraces her power within her femininity, the more powerful she’ll be, and your story will be all the richer for it.
Within Gothic literature focused on the feminine, the story often took place in a variation of the home, which would be interpreted as an extension of the domestic sphere to which women were chained. This is not so integral to horror today, but a crucial element of any Gothic literature is the inclusion of the sublime. The sublime in itself is anything vast and awe-inspiring; large and dominating over characters and scenery alike. In this way, the setting of your plot could be anywhere in nature, if you wanted to move away from the traditional home.
The aim of the sublime is to create an overwhelming emotional response. It helps in minimising the agent and magnifying the emotional response to a spooky plot. It enhances elements of mystery because they could be anywhere, and it really sets the stage for a Gothic plot.
3. A really good plot
To entice readers, you need to have a solid story. This goes for any genre, not just Gothic literature, but maintaining the integrity of the plot is crucial in executing an effective Gothic story. With supernatural elements, be they characters or creatures, or settings or themes, understanding how they function without your overarching plot will help you to maintain the suspense of the development and make your story all the more believable.
By incorporating the previous elements of strong protagonist and sublime setting into your plot, you will have the basis for an incredible Gothic tale.
So, all in all, the power of Gothic literature created one of the first spaces for independence within women, and that power is still valid today. I hope that this little toolkit is helpful not only for inspiring your own Gothic tales, but also at understanding the social power of the horror genre and its importance in the ongoing fight for inclusive feminism.
Keep an eye out for SmashBear’s horror releases!